Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Journalist's Resource offers tips for college reporters on promoting campus transparency

There are plenty of resources to help college journalists fight for freedom of information on campus, John Wihbey and Denise-Marie Ordway report for Journalist's Resource.  "Most colleges and universities are non-profit organizations and, therefore, must file a Form 990 with the IRS," Wihbey and Ordway write. "These records, which are accessible online, offer financial data and insights into such as things as net assets, fundraising expenses and compensation for top employees and officers."

Also, the federal Clery Act, "stipulates that all higher education institutions receiving federal funding must report and publicly disclose certain kinds of data," Wihbey and Ordway write. "Campus crime is the category that gets the most focus. If you are interested in investigating issues of sexual assault, you should brief yourself on the wider context and research on this area. The Clery Center for Security on Campus is a useful resource on campus crime and the Clery Act more broadly. Another key federal law you should read and understand is FERPA, or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which regulates the types of student information that a government agency can disclose to the public."

"Bear in mind that the laws for public colleges and universities often are quite different than those for private institutions, which have much more of a right to keep reporters out and shield documents and data from the public’s view," Whibey and Ordway caution. "Public schools rely on public funding and, as such, are subject to a variety of federal and state transparency laws, including public records laws. The laws and policies governing public colleges and universities also vary by state. Whatever the situation may be, it would be wise to familiarize yourself with your rights and privileges as they pertain to the higher education institutions you’re covering."

"The College Media Association provides a variety of resources for members of the student media," Wihbey and Ordway write. "The professional organization Investigative Reporters and Editors highlights campus-related issues and furnishes content and tips for student journalists. Another important resource is the national Education Writers Association, which offers tips, tutorials, webinars and seminars on covering a range of higher education topics."

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